The Tallest Tree in the World

The Stratosphere Giant, the world's reigning tallest living tree, seems to have lost its title — to not one but three contenders.

Like the 370-foot Giant, the three trees are coast redwoods. They were discovered this summer in Redwood National Park near Eureka by a team of California researchers who spend most of their free time bushwhacking through North Coast forests in search of taller and taller trees.

So far, the group has found about 135 redwoods that reach higher than 350 feet, said team member Chris Atkins, the man credited with finding the Stratosphere Giant in August 2000 in nearby Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

The tallest of the three new finds, a redwood named Hyperion, measures 378.1 feet. Next in line, Helios, stands at 376.3 feet; Icarus, the third, reaches 371.2 feet.

Redwood experts say the discovery is a bit surprising considering that so much of the state's redwood forests have been logged. Although officials decline to pinpoint the exact locations of the tall trees, the stand found by Atkins and fellow amateur naturalist Michael Taylor were protected less than 30 years ago by an expansion of the national park's boundary.

Atkins and Taylor discovered Helios and Icarus on July 1 and Hyperion on Aug. 25. They took initial measurements with hand-held lasers before returning with Steve Sillet, a Humboldt State University biologist known for his work on the ecosystems of ancient forest canopies, and Robert Van Pelt, a forest ecologist at the University of Washington. The foursome shot more measurements using a tripod-mounted laser fitted with a remote trigger designed to eliminate human-induced wobbles.

Atkins said Hyperion soon will be measured again with a tripod laser or with a "tape drop" — in which someone climbs the tree and drops a measuring tape to the ground — before its record-breaking status is confirmed. Tape drops can't be conducted for at least two weeks because of National Park Service restrictions to protect the marbled murrelet, a small seabird that nests in old-growth redwoods.

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